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Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

Vanessa, Times Two…

Jun 25

In Seminars & Workshops, Travels at 2:41pm


Days 2 and 3 in Dobbs. Still playing with that mask I got in Venice, and I promise to stop soon. It just seems to me there are certain faces that belong on stage, or perhaps in another century. Vanessa has one of those. A magnificent dancer, we have worked together now over 4 years. She has danced, posed, gone on pointe, been tied up with ribbons like a marionette, had SB900 speed lights attached to curlers in her hair…..geez, she is patient with me. She’s even flown on the set occasionally, and I’ve been lucky enough to have a camera in my hands.


Yesterday I asked her to be two people, masked and unmasked. Nikon D3, two SB900 units into matching (well, almost matching) Ezybox Hot Shoe soft boxes. Gary Astill, the lead designer for Lastolite, has flown over from England to be here, watch us work, get field feedback and ideas.

Speaking of faces, one that belongs right here, right now, is my bud Kent Miller. We’ve known each other for years, and I shot his wedding to his wonderful wife,  Amy. I always ask him, “How’d you end up with Amy, dude?” He counters. “How’d you end up with Annie, bozo?” We both shrug and accept life’s wonderful mysteries.


He came by the workshop, and we lit him with two Tri-grip diffusers, each with an SB900 running through it. Sent different power levels to both from the commander at the camera. Converted to B&W with NIK filters. (Amazing! Mongo push slider good! Though he still remain pawn in game of life.)


We did some high key, kinda commercial looking stuff with Jillian….


Low key with Mariana….dobbs_09_workshops_day_3_0228

Simple, soft lighting for Nathalia……dobbs_09_workshops_day_3_0161

The scene in the studio, and on the loading dock, courtesy of Jeff Snyder at Adorama……



And Kent ended us with a leap…doubled up CTO warm gels, leaving him warm, while the stormy Northeast goes drab and blue (been nothing else lately around here) with the D3 programmed to incandescent white balance, B4, which is really, really blue. The loading dock itself was the light source, as we just draped an old 12′ silk on the garage door with A clamps.


We’re having fun up in Dobbs….again, a big thanks to our sponsors….Nikon, Adorama, Bogen….tip of the hat from all of us. More tk…..

Notes from the Flightline….

Jun 7

In Rants, Travels at 10:46pm

Man it was rough at Kennedy. I mean, it’s never easy at that nexus of sweat, angst, nerves and fatigue nestled near the Brooklyn shoreline. It’s a classic case of way too many of the frayed, obnoxious and demanding being serviced by way too few of the disinterested and disgruntled.

The cafeteria line was really long, made longer by people demanding specialty food alterations that really didn’t have a prayer of making anything that had been baking under glass for several hours in the noxious JFK terminal air taste any better.

One of the guys slinging food behind the counter did a quick, mostly covert move and appeared to get his finger so far up his nose as to indicate there might have been something truly valuable up there, but, ahhh, relief, he turned around and put on gloves. Thank goodness….with the motley and colorful variety of pizzas served there it would be tough to pick out a booger.

I got stuck behind two pleasant ladies who insisted on debating the various tantalizing merits of almost every offering, but then got themselves one slice of cheese pizza to split and moved forward. I was right behind them at the register when they sparked a lively debate with the cashier about getting the pizza/salad combo price and were informed the discount didn’t apply to a piece of plain cheese pie.

It was all cordial and chummy, but it took several minutes to agree to the ala carte pricing. And then! Drumroll please! The search for the wallet begins! Both of these ladies had shoulder bags the size of say, a large turkey. They were both crafted in that puffy, fabric-y style that looked like they were stitched together from the also rans at last year’s county fair quilting contest. Colorful is the kindest word I can find at this writing.

Eventually, the wallets were found, and the aforementioned pizza was bought. Why do women do that? Wait for the cashier to tell them the total and have a hand out before they in turn reach for the dough? I mean, they hadda zip open these bags and begin a rummage that would make the search for the holy frikkin’ grail look as easy as a connect the dots game on a Denny’s placemat.

I would not have put my hand inside one of these bags. The innards were spilling out and looked a bit reminiscent of that plant in Little Shop of Horrors. I was waiting for one of them to belch “Feed me!” in guttural tones. I’m surprised these women had all their fingers.

See, men don’t do that. They belly up to the counter, $20 in hand, and just fork it over. Like Robin Williams says, you get your McBurger and fries, grab your McChange and get the McFuck outta there. Maybe it’s cause we all remember our first illegal beer bought at a bar and we had no idea what it was gonna cost so we had a twenty ready to go so as not to get embarrassed by having to fish out some extra dough on the spot. Dunno. Might be genetic. Might be that chromosome right next to the one that causes Male Refrigerator Blindness.

Back to the ladies. Oh, we’re not done!  They also asked for cokes with lots of ice cause they had just got back from Europe, and you know, “In Europe, they just don’t serve anything with ice! I mean, really! They drink their soda warm! Can you imagine? And you can’t get tap water anywhere, it’s all in bottles, they cost like $6 each! I tell you, we’re glad to be back in America!”

And by golly, we’re glad to have you back…

I got on the plane and was seated next to someone who was part of a group that couldn’t get seats together so they were shouting to each other over the aisles. Pleasant. My neighbor allowed in a loud voice as he probably shouldn’t have just had those 4 beers. It was a swell flight. More tk…..


Jun 5

In Stories, Travels at 2:12pm

The blog’s been a touch erratic. (Okay, remember who writes it.) But definitely having ups and downs. Truth is, I’ve been completely knackered of late. It’s been harder than usual for my pinball machine of a brain to make it to the keyboard. Fatigued. Get up in the morning, and feel like going back to bed–right away.

Plus my legs have been killing me. No surprise there. Trust me, after being a photog for 30 odd years, there’s not too much on my body that don’t hurt. My legs have taken the biggest beating. When I started in this game, it was standard operating procedure to use a camera bag (Domke was the way to go) and walk, run, adjust, bend, climb, scurry, jump, sing and dance all day long with a 40 pound anchor on your shoulder. This is the reason the x-rays of lots of photogs spines look like the S curves at LeMans.

My back, being of Irish descent, remains intact, thankfully. But the knees and ankles–yikes. I think about the offensive linemen in the NFL, the big guys. They pretty much shoot their lower extremities to hell and back in the course of a 5-10 year career. A fast cha-cha to Limpville. For photogs, it’s more of a slow bump and grind. You basically throw your knees in a blender and hit stir instead of liquefy. It takes longer, but the end result is the same. After an average Olympics, for example, for about a week I’ll unfold out of bed like an unwieldy, collapsible card table. When I was shooting the Sydney Games, for instance, my first few steps of every day sounded like I was walking on bubble wrap.

But lately, with both the pain and the fatigue meter spiking, my wonderful wife, Annie, blessedly (and sternly) greeted me at the door and turned my sorry ass around and pointed it at the doctor’s office. Pop diagnosis? Lyme disease. I pretty much concur. Had a bout of it before.

First got it in Nashville, on assignment for SI. I was shooting Mike Reid, former pro football player turned singer-songwriter,  and lighting his house from the outside, traipsing my lights around his garden.

Then shot in a local theater….

Noticed at the end of the day I had picked up a tick. Hmmm. Not much I could do about it, cause my next stop was Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost tip of the continental United States, and one of the true garden spots of all time. My ultimate destination was Cooper Island, a tiny stretch of ice and sand a bit off the off the North Coast. I was shooting a cover for the New York Times Sunday magazine, and was going there to profile George Divokey, an ornithologist who had been studying a colony of birds on Cooper for over 20 years. His copious notebooks of their behavior had become an empirical, indisputable record of bird biology to be sure, but additionally, very significantly, global warming.

Had to helicopter out there due to the ice conditions, and the weather had us socked in for two days. Welcome to Barrow.

I was staying in a shack of a hotel, feeling worse and worse, and by the time I got choppered out (small bird, had to lash all my gear onto stretcher boards out on the skids) I was running about 103 fever or so. No source of heat on the island, except the cooking stove. Had a pup tent, out there shimmering around in the icy wind. I crawled into my sleeping bag and started dosing myself with antibiotics I had in my old Nat Geo medicine kit.

It’s all a little fuzzy now, but I basically spent two days sleeping and taking doxycycline. Poor George thought the magazine had really sent a deadbeat. Out there they give you a PLB (personal locator beacon) which, if you punch the button, means the Coast Guard rescue choppers are on the way. I remember looking at that thing. The magazine was paying me the princely sum of $350 bucks a day to shoot this, and I thought, ya know, I don’t wanna die out here. Had all sorts of fever induced imaginings. Like my remains would be eaten, along with my Kodachrome, by a polar bear and crapped out on the tundra, and then found many years later by a team from the National Geographic, and somehow the pictures would be published, albeit in a different magazine.

Spent 8 days out there with George, his research assistant Tamara Enz, call sign Tango Echo, and the birds.

George is a great guy, very dedicated scientist. He did enjoy the fact that when I returned to life, I was very hungry, and started cooking up a whole bunch of Dinty Moore stuff with red pepper and anything else spicy I could find in the food locker. Also, the article did him some good, cause he ended up on the Letterman Show of all places, which had to help his fund raising. We’re still in touch, off and on.

But the antibiotics are kicking in! Feel better today than I have in two weeks, and I’m driving everybody in the studio nuts. I think they’re gonna hide my prescription. Got some energy back, thanks to my doc, and my regular breakfast of cheerios, skim milk, a banana, a couple of those little red sudafeds, and 8 cups of Cafe’ Bustelo.

Good thing too, cause there’s a bunch of stuff in the pipe. On a plane tonight to Italy. Then, in couple weeks, a commercial gig I be looking forward to. Great folks, fun to work for. Got a Geographic job cooking now, and a story coming out in the June issue. More on that stuff, as they say, tk….

Short Hops….

May 12

In Seminars & Workshops, Travels at 10:01am

My view, lately. A lot.

Checked in for a US Air flight. Very helpful guy at the counter. Checks my gear, charges so much excess baggage my credit card is handed back to me smoking, but does all this pleasantly. He looks over at me and asks, “Do I know you?” I say, you know, I don’t think so. He pauses.  “But I know your name…McNally. Are you a photographer?” I reply yes. “For Discovery?” “No,” I say, “But I have shot for the National Geographic for a long time.” He beamed. “I knew I knew you! That’s my favorite channel!”

So it goes for us ink stained wretches involved in that remarkable growth engine known as print media nowadays. We get more and more wretched every day. Suits me actually. When I’m this tired I’m truly unpleasant on board the plane, especially the 50 seat styler I’m about to get on. So I might as well be wretched to boot. Have to feel sorry for the poor bastards around me, all of us stuck together like spam in a can. I’ve been working all day in the heat of Charleston, and I smell like low tide.

Charming, huh? I guess I hear stuff like the above, as innocent and pleasant as the comment was, and I start to feel like the Clint Eastwood character, Walt Kowalski, still desperately clinging onto the Gran Torino of mass communications, the printed page. I start growling at 3 year olds with websites.

Oh, well. Got on board, with my trusty Moose bag. I have never had my cameras gate checked on a regional jet, because of this bag. Oh, not that they don’t try. I’ve had lots of gate side folks tell me the bag is too big and here’s a yellow ticket. I smile and nod and then tear the ticket off while walking down the jet way and get on the plane. Even had couple of people be insistent about it, whereupon I pull out my best, most imperious impersonation of Inspector Clouseau. “Aha, but zis is zee Moose bag, it is expressively design-ed to fit in zee compartment over zee head of zee regional jet!”

Had one airline type actually follow me onto zee plane to check. I slung it up there with a flourish, it fit perfectly, and he had to slink away, because I had heaped upon him zee great shame.

That’s for the cameras, especially on the small jets. Lately have been toting the bigger stuff in Kata Bags, and they are amazing. It’s like wrapping your stuff in Kevlar. Attached wheels, cool spacing and compartments, handles in all the right places. They rock. I’ve got all my flash gear, big and small, in Kata now. Check ’em out.

This hasn’t been long hauls with big stuff, though. This one has been a trip filled with regional jets. Short hops. Just came outta DLWS Outer Banks chapter, and I always have a great time with my landscape family. Shot some stuff, you know, windswept beaches, dunes, etc. It was cool, though I do think if I saw another damn light house I woulda called in an air strike.

I do learn a lot of stuff from Moose, Laurie and Kevin, though. They are always talking about eliminating the color cast of a digital file by dropping a black point/white point in either Photoshop or Capture NX2. Very cool. Always snaps up the frame. Thus inspired, I tried to eliminate the middle man and went to find a picture that really was just one big ass black point/white point.

In OBX we as a staff welcomed the lovely and talented Stephanie Cross. I’m glad she’s on board, cause she’s a complete hoot. Definitely a woman who runs with the wolves and takes few prisoners and less shit, especially from Drew, my assistant and DLWS staffer. Being a young female, she will help us ease up on the old guy testosterone gas pedal that gets stepped on big time whenever a DLWS meet up is called. She’s a very welcome addition.

I also got a chance to update…WHERE IS LAURIE’S HAIR? Put her next to these signs they have on the beaches down there. Evidently, per this sign, if you have a WWII era Willis jeep, you cannot go on the beach with it. But if you’ve got a Mini Cooper, or perhaps a Prius, you are welcome to try.

Went from OBX to Charleston, and met Annie, and the two of us were very proud to help our friends Stacy Pearsall and Andy Dunaway launch a workshop at the Charleston Center for Photography. It’s a great place run by terrific people. Both Stacy and Andy come out of the military, where they have had long and distinguished shooting careers. (Stacy was MILPHOG of the year twice, and Andy was for a period of time designated as Rumsfeld’s photog. Between the two of them, I believe they have 5 tours of Iraq and Afghanistan. Andy’s still with Combat Camera, and of such stature they recently assigned him to the now infamous NY flyover of Air Force One. Lots of hoo hah, obviously, but through it all Andy just did his job. He’t a total pro. Supported the mission. Shot great stuff.)

Stacy did an amazing job wrangling talent for our class to shoot. Ashley came over and participated in a studio session.

Her sister, Meghan was with us as well….

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is a good looking family. Total of five speed lights used here. Three effectively became one light via the Bogen Tri-Flash umbrella adapter. One is on the background, and one is skipped off the floor.

Used roughly the same combo, with some white walls and black cards to add and subtract light to come up with a group that included Wayne.

And then really subtracted some light to come up with a harder, more character driven light for a single of Wayne.

Used the tri-flash again with the amazing leaper, Michael Fothergill of the Charleston Ballet Theater.

Also went to the historic military prison in the middle of the city and tried a few things. Been playing with the Lumiquest Mini Soft Box 3.0 a lot lately. Great, punchy, hard/soft light all at once.

Tried using two of them, over and under, in a beauty light combo, and got this of Piper, a gymnast, diver and all around font of energy in front of the lens.

Just one overhead produced this of Courteny. Not a light for everybody, but she has such great structure to her face, as I mentioned to the class, you could hit her with a car head light and she would look great.

And the combo, with the low fill washed off a gold Tri-Grip diffuser, gave this look, with Mike in front of the lens.

And then one overhead Ezybox Hotshoe Softbox gave us this of Steven.

Been trying to ramp up my skill set a bit with the NIK suite of filters in Photoshop. These moves are terrific, and perfectly set up for me, who has kind of this love-hate thing with the computer. I’ve been messing around, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I get good at any of it, but it has been fun. Tried to include many of the models we worked with in Charleston, cause they all just worked so hard.

All in all, a great three days in a wonderful city. Stacy and Andy are on track to take the Charleston Center and make it a magnet for shooters everywhere. They will be doing more workshops, shows, custom printing, mentoring, you name it. Got a chance to hang with Bill Frakes, who came in to knock out a video promo for Stacy. He just shot yet another great SI cover of Mine That Bird at Churchill Downs. In the 25 years I have known him, despite the circumstances and the pressure, he just never fails. The guy defines what it means to be a pro. More tk….


Apr 28

In Travels at 8:19am

Was in Paso Robles last week, teaching a workshop launched by my buddy Syl Arena, he of the Pixsylated blog spot and the homemade wood frame box with 12 Canon flashes attached to radio poppers operating at high speed sync, otherwise known as the Hi Speed Square of Death. I think he did some self portraits with it, and that’s how his hair got that way.

Syl’s doing a cool thing, opening the Paso Robles Workshops, which promises to be an interesting, eclectic series of offerings in an interesting, eclectic setting. He knows everybody from the mayor to the police chief to the winery gang, and all have welcomed the workshop as another creative turn for the town. Everyone was gracious and easygoing, but then again, this is the heart of sun drenched, mellow, wine country, where conversations are dominated by words like “nose,” “big fruit,” “hint of licorice and elderberry,” and the like. You’d be mellow, too, if you drank that much wine. At times the entire town seemed to be a large day room at a high end psychiatric facility, with lots of pleasant people making a sort of disconnected wander through their day. It was really quite lovely and easygoing. Syl also fixed us up with a couple of cool locations that were right out of The Shining. (See above–two SB-900 units out the window, one inside, lighting the model’s face, with a 1/8″ Honl grid.)

Speaking of distracted, I left with the apartment keys, which meant that David Hobby, who is teaching there this week, had to jimmy several windows to gain access. Sorry, man. I tried to think of something devious prank to do, like take several of the diet Mountain Dews in David’s refridge and attach them to pocket wizards connected to a heating element, so I could trigger them remotely and they would explode at all hours of the night. But I realized to work out a flash engineering marvel like that I would have to call, uh, David Hobby. Oh, well.

The workshop signaled a return to working with MD Welch, who just launched a blog as bent as MD himself. He’s a good shooter who, given the fact he hails from idyllic Reno, Nevada has a wild portfolio. Any collection of pictures of Roller Derby gals with names like “Priscilla the Killa” bears looking at, I tell ya. And, between the two of us, we have most of the dialogue to virtually every bad movie out there memorized.

Headed to LA, and had a great weekend with Annie, who is also traveling, and then got up at 3am Sunday and hit LAX, bound for NY. Dubious about this Delta/Northwest merger thing. Delta’s a decent airline merging with a bad one, and the resulting economy of size probably spells more passenger pain.

Fast forward to NY, where I am in a hotel just by Madison Square Garden, which is relatively quiet right now, given the fact that it is playoff time so the Knicks aren’t playing. This room has all the charm of a holding cell for recidivist offenders. Well, I guess it’s not so bad. It has the basics–bed, roof, bowl, spoon, latrine. Last night I swear I heard something that distinctly sounded like a police baton being dragged across bars and a harsh, world weary voice shouting “Lockdown!”

My view when I woke up….complete with an individual promoting his series of books that evidently coach people to riches by becoming real estate predators. Nice.

Oh well, I calmed myself by gazing serenely out at the bucolic view from my window. I love the smell of rotting garbage and diesel fumes. Combine that with the racket of a broken air conditioner, the wail of police sirens and insistent blaring of taxi horns mixed with bellowed Russian curses from the drivers of those taxis, and well, my joy is complete. There’s a set of office windows not 20 feet from mine. If those folks come in soon, I swear I’m gonna moon ’em.

The ironical fact of being a shooter. You’re told to charge, gotta be there, we need ya man, you’re essential, a star, a go to guy! We’re such insecure sons of bitches that we still listen to all that crap like a googly eyed schoolgirl, and even believe it, right up to the moment we check into hotel reality.

Photographers. We’re often like brightly colored wind up toys placed in front of a brick wall.

Life on the road…..more tk.